Who's the Most Dangerous Team in the Pac-12?
Pac-12 basketball is gradually returning to being a conference to be reckoned with.
After only sending conference tournament winner Colorado and Cal to last year's March Madness, the league looks to have a much more robust showing in this year's tourney.
Jerry Palm, CBS Sports.com's bracketology expert, predicts that the Pac-12 could have as many as six schools receiving good news on Selection Sunday.
Cal and Colorado have experienced some early conference struggles. Here's a quick look at the four best teams in the conference. Afterwards, we will identify which one is most dangerous.
The Top Four Pac-12 Teams
Washington (12-6; 4-1 Pac-12)
Leading Scorers: C.J. Wilcox (19.1 PPG); Scott Suggs (12.2); Abdul Gaddy (11.1); Aziz N'Diaye (10.7)
Quality Nonconference Wins: St. Louis; Seton Hall
UW's head coach Lorenzo Romar has adjusted his style to his 2012-13 roster. Rather than playing their normal up-tempo game, the Huskies are excelling in the half court.
Starting a trio of seniors (Suggs, Gaddy and N'Diaye) is a plus when it comes to experience.
Wilcox (pictured) has emerged as Washington's go-to guy.
The emergence of 7'0", 260-pound senior center N'Diaye gives Romar a defensive stopper in the lane and a beast on both boards.
One of the strengths of this year's UDub team is getting out and defending the three. In five Pac-12 games, the Huskies are holding their conference opponents to 20.6 percentage shooting (13-of-63) from beyond the arc.
UCLA (15-4; 5-1)
Leading Scorers: Shabazz Muhammad (17.9 PPG); Jordan Adams (15.2); Travis Wear (12.5)
Quality Nonconference Wins: Missouri; Indiana State
Lots of talent on this UCLA roster. The Bruins play surprisingly well together for a team that starts three freshmen and a senior transfer.
UCLA head coach Ben Howland must be excited that the Bruins take good care of the basketball. Their assist-to-turnover ratio (1.53) is No. 5 in the nation.
That all starts with senior PG Larry Drew II. He is averaging 8.1 APG (No. 3 in the nation), but equally as important are his 1.7 turnovers per game.
Muhammad (pictured) is the real deal. He is lethal and can score points in bunches.
Kyle Anderson's versatility at power forward (9.9 PPG; 9.1 RPG; 3.7 APG) creates matchup troubles.
Oregon (16-2; 5-0)
Leading Scorers: Damyean Dotson (pictured; 11.9 PPG); Tony Woods (11.3); E.J. Singler (10.4); Carlos Emory (10.4); Dominic Artis (10.3)
Quality Nonconference Wins: UNLV; Nebraska
From the moment that Dana Altman was hired as the Ducks' head basketball coach in April 2010, he began to rebuild the Oregon program.
In his first year, UO went 21-18 and won the CBI national tournament.
Last year, the Ducks posted a 24-10 record and advanced to the NIT quarterfinals.
This year, Oregon has won 16 of their first 18 games, has beaten both Arizona and UCLA in the only times that they will face those two conference contenders and is currently ranked No. 16 in the AP Top 25.
Even though this year's team may not have any future NBA stars on it, they are winning with balanced scoring (five players averaging double figures) and they are one of the best rebounding teams in the Pac-12 (39.8 RPG; No. 24 in the nation).
Arizona (16-1; 4-1)
Leading Scorers: Mark Lyons (pictured; 15.2 PPG); Solomon Hill (13.6); Nick Johnson (12.7)
Quality Nonconference Wins: Florida; Miami (FL); San Diego State; UTEP
Sean Miller has used great recruiting and intense player development to revive the U of A program that was teetering on the brink of becoming irrelevant.
In Miller's second year in Tucson, the Wildcats were two points away from making it to the Final Four.
This season, Arizona, like Oregon, is an excellent rebounding team. They have a plus-9.4 rebounding margin (No. 5 in the nation) so far.
They also have a plus-14.4 scoring margin (No. 20). The Cats have proven that they can beat Top 25 teams in close games.
Their combination of senior leadership (Lyons, Hill and sixth man Kevin Parrom), young talent and overpowering size has helped U of A climb into and stay in the Top 10 since the third week of the season.
And, the most dangerous team in the Pac-12 is...Arizona
I know. Oregon beat Arizona 70-66 in Eugene (Jan. 10).
For some people, that single head-to-head game settles this issue, especially because that was the only time that these two teams will face each other in the regular season.
While it was a significant win for the Ducks, we could also look to see how both teams fared when they've played common opponents.
They've both beaten Oregon State and Arizona State. U of A beat UTEP (at home) by 21. Oregon lost to UTEP (on the road) by 7.
Arizona has repeatedly demonstrated the knack to mount serious comebacks through pressure defense and opportunistic scoring.
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